Eurosonic Noorderslag is the largest showcase event in Europe. Having started in 1986, it's become widely renowned as the grandaddy of showcase festivals and is undoubtedly an essential starting point for any new artist wishing to play the European festival circuit.
In our fourteenth installment looking at how to organise a music festival, DiS went behind the scenes with Ruud Berends who looks after the International Sales and Marketing for the event, and Robert Meijerink, who is the main artist booker.
How did you first become involved with Eurosonic?
Robert Meijerink: The first year I became involved was 2006. I took over from the previous booker. My first role was dealing with artist submissions, which run from 1st May until 1st September. I was asked around mid-November to put the program together for January 2007, so I only had two weeks to book all these acts!
What was your background prior to working for Eurosonic?
Ruud Berends: I was a European and International booking agent between 1980 and 2000 then I stopped doing that and started working for Eurosonic Noorderslag which was a lot smaller then. We had about 600 delegates back then and slowly built it up to what it is now. Even now, this is still a freelance job among many other projects I'm involved with. I'm also involved with the IFF (International Festival Forum) in London, Dutch Impact here in the Netherlands, and the Eastern European Music Conference.
RM: My daily job is being a promoter in the city of Nijmegen. I've run a venue there called Doornroosje since 2003 and still do to this day.
When you first became involved with the festival did you anticipate it becoming as big as it has?
RB: No! You can dream but I think this event is very different from many others. It's a non-profit event and we promote mostly unknown European talent as well as providing an exchange for a lot of sister festivals and the major radio stations and media from all over Europe. That's our main mission.
What do you enjoy most about being involved with Eurosonic?
RM: It's developed quite a lot over the years, but it's still a major platform for new artists and is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote what's happening all over Europe. We try to show diversity, not only within the different musical genres we represent, but also the countries we invite to showcase their acts here. We want to make people aware there's great music coming out of places like Estonia and Finland. Places that are not necessarily considered to be at the forefront of any music scene. That's always been our goal and its something we'll continue to do in the future.
Who do you see as being the festival's main competitors?
RM: I don't think we have any main competitors because there are so many showcase events nowadays. All the other bigger ones have a totally different approach to Eurosonic. They welcome artist submissions from all over the world whereas we concentrate specifically on Europe, which is significant to what we do. So for that reason, because we are unique I don't see us as having a real competitor.
RB: I don't know any other festival that's non-profit or just focusing on relatively unknown European artists. Most of them are commercial models, whether they be small or big, with a showcase element.
Do you think the festival market has become saturated in recent years?
RM: Maybe, but I don't think that has anything to do with the headliners. We're focusing here on emerging acts. Acts still in the very early stages of their careers who could possibly benefit from a showcase. Acts at that level need this, and we like to see ourselves as being a starting point for many emerging artists. I think it's important for festivals to not only book young acts from their own countries, but also to book young acts from abroad.
When do you start booking acts for the following year's festival?
RB: Sometime last year!
RM: Officially it starts during the submission period between May and September but my ears are open all year round. I spoke to some people this morning who've already given me suggestions for next year's line up. So the first CDs for next year are on my table and the first emails in my inbox. It's a continually ongoing process. My job is to visit as many showcase festivals around Europe throughout the year as possible.
RB We're already planning two years ahead. So there could be changes to the conference and more partners involved in the not too distant future. I think it's been a natural development over time since the festival started.
What changes do you anticipate happening in the future?
RB: We're very much a natural and organic organisation. Eurosonic wouldn't exist if we didn't have such an amazing crowd of delegates and artists. If you have the right people it's up to us to listen to their suggestions and make them happen if we can. That's essential. We changed some of the networking events from last year and you can already see the difference walking around the building (De Oosterpoort). We doubled the level of food and drink provided. When people are comfortable they want to come here and mostly end up doing great business. Aside from that, it's quite ridiculous how underpaid artists are and it's our responsibility to do something about that in the future so that's on the agenda. It is hard to predict, particularly technological changes
Is there specific criteria bands need to meet in order to be selected to play Eurosonic? For example, do they need to have a team (agent, manager, label, PR) already in place?
RM: I think it really makes sense for them to be part of a professional environment. For me, Eurosonic is all about the music, but at the same time, it really doesn't make any sense to invite a random band regardless of how good they may be if there's no one on the ground taking care of the business side of things. You don't necessarily need to have an agent but it would be very helpful to have somebody there who can look after your business, so whether that's a manager, or publicist or even just your best friend there has to be someone in place if only to take care of the promotional side of things.
The number of acts and participating venues has grown considerably over the years. Do you see any potential for further growth in the future?
RB: We don't think it's important how many artists, venues or delegates we have here. We measure ourselves on results for the performing artists and if we do that with 3000 people or 5000 people, it doesn't really matter.
RM: We always say no to this because we feel that it's very important to remain in the city of Groningen. We have the opportunity to grow, but we don't feel it really needs to in terms of numbers. We could book more acts but then that could dilute the numbers at each show. We feel it is important to have as many overseas bookers, agents and journalists as possible at each event. It's difficult enough for them to see every act they want to as it stands. Making it bigger would not improve that. Also from the point of view of the artists, it's important they get as much media coverage and many festival bookings as possible from Eurosonic so as they have a return on their investment. We have over 300 acts already. Any more would be too many.
Do you feel that Groningen has a better infrastructure for this kind of event than anywhere else in the Netherlands?
RB: Yeah, definitely. It has between 30 and 40 venues and all of them are within ten minutes walking distance of each other. So the infrastructure is perfect. It's also a very beautiful city with a high percentage of young people. If we were to move Eurosonic to somewhere like Amsterdam, London or Milan, for example, I think we'd create a lot of problems. Sure, those cities also have a number of venues that are close to one another, but you tend to find big cities less interested in what we do whereas Groningen has always been very supportive and cooperative of Eurosonic.
Denmark are the focus nation for Eurosonic this year. How is that decided every year?
RB: Basically, we know how many European countries there are within the music exchange framework and we are in regular contact with all of them so try to give everybody the opportunity to be the main focus here. We don't have a budget or offer them a fee. It's a case of going with the flow and seeing what they have to offer. Our main mission is to highlight that country's music scene and hopefully get more music professionals coming to Eurosonic from that country so they can learn to network on a European level.
RM: We have this conversation every year but it basically comes down to which partnerships develop over the next twelve months. So for example the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) have 32 different broadcasters who send in their acts which we go through and then confirm if we consider them suitable for the festival. They're booked in collaboration with the EBU and then we discuss which country we'll specifically focus on with our festival partners, because it needs to make sense for all parties. Also that particular country's Music Export office has a very specific role in this. We initially talked about Denmark a couple of years ago and eventually agreed in 2018 they would be the focus nation.
What's been your proudest moment since working on Eurosonic? What has given you the most satisfaction?
RM: It happens every year. People are excited about 15 or 20 acts and I always get excited when other people are excited! When someone tells me they discovered this great band from Estonia or Finland at Eurosonic that gives me immense satisfaction.
RB: It's a combination of factors for me. I'm proud we have 4000 people here and everybody's here for the right reasons. There's no arguments or fights. Bookers, agents, managers, labels, artists, the media, they all live on their own little planets yet we couldn't do this without them. We think it's important that they all get to know each other, share information, become friends, and work together to make the music industry that bit more of a real industry. They're all here because they believe in the concept and idea. Primarily because they're all music lovers. A lot of us have known each other for a very long time and besides all the corporate bullshit that comes with the territory we all do this for the love of music.
Eurosonic has a reputation as being the leading showcase event in Europe and ultimately, is where a lot of festival lineups are put together. I guess that must resonate greatly with you too?
RB: In a way. I guess you can add South By Southwest and The IMC (International Music Conference) to that list as well. Eurosonic started 32 years ago so I think it's fair to say a lot of people have copied the model which is fine. But in a different way as they're mostly commercial. It's difficult to say where it's going to go but I think we'll see a lot of changes over the next 5-10 years. The model of conferences will change. I don't think it makes much sense to look too far into the future because nobody knows what will happen.
Are there any new artists you're particularly excited about at the minute? Any you'd recommend to Drowned In Sound and its readers?
RB: That really depends on what you like.
RM: I'm really excited about Iguana Death Cult. I think they're ready to break right now. Also Pip Blom. I really like her. I think it's a great time for Dutch music in general. There are so many talented musicians around right now. Lots of young people making very exciting music. Altın Gün are another band I'm really liking right now and there's one more I should mention called The Mauskovic Dance Band who are incredible too. They've just signed to a UK label, Soundway.
The festival has got so big there's now also a fringe festival running in non-participating venues alongside it. Does it work in tandem with Eurosonic? Is it something you endorse?
RM: We set up Eurosonic Extra between the daytime and evening programmes to make people aware that we have events going on all around the clock. So we have the conference and in stores going on at Plato Records and The Coffee Company during the daytime then the main programme of events in the evening, with Eurosonic Extra taking place between 5 and 8pm. So there is a lot happening all around town. Some of the other fringe events have been going on for a number of years, and it's great to see people promoting Dutch underground music but it doesn't form part of Eurosonic.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to start their own music festival?
RB: Find a niche. Our niche is providing a platform for unknown European artists using a non-profit model and even to this day, it still amazes me that we're able to book around 350 acts every year. But then that's the name of the game I guess.
RM: I think you need a heart and a soul to organise a festival. Not yourself, but you have to put it in the festival. It's so much more than just building a lineup. Eurosonic is very different to most other festivals. It's just about Europe and isn't primarily focused on either mainstream or underground acts. It goes everywhere. We also book exotic acts alongside those that could appear in the charts anytime soon and ones who might remain in the underground forever. Those kinds of acts belong to the underground and they should be there but at the same time are still worth checking out and discovering. For me, as a booker, it's very important to keep that balance because I'd like to think we have a blueprint that's attractive to all of our visitors.
For more information on Eurosonic Noorderslag visit their official website.
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